SAN ANTONIO - A San Antonio Police officer who has been indefinitely suspended, essentially fired, from the department twice in the past four years has won his job back a second time.
Officer Robert Romo appealed his latest termination, which stemmed from a fight and shooting at a bar in 2015. An arbitrator ordered the city to return him to duty.
Romo, who joined the department in May 2008, was initially terminated after he was arrested in January 2013 on a DWI charge.
Romo was off duty when he was pulled over on Loop 410 near San Pedro. When the officer approached Romo's truck, the occupants refused to roll down the windows. When someone finally did roll down a window, the officer found that there was no one in the driver's seat. There was a passenger in the front seat, and Romo was in the back seat. According to past news reports, both men appeared intoxicated, and Romo failed a breath test.
The incident earned Romo an indefinite suspension, but it was eventually overturned when the criminal charges against him were dropped due to a lack of evidence showing he was the driver of the truck.
Romo was returned to duty after sitting out for roughly two-and-a-half years. Shortly after returning to duty, he found himself in trouble again.
In the early morning hours of October 27, 2015, Romo was with friends at a bar called Mustang Sally's. Officers responded to the bar after a man was shot in the parking lot during a fight.
According to official documents, Romo "fled the scene, failed to report the incident in writing to his immediate supervisor or on-duty supervisor and failed to provide truthful information about his participation in the altercation to the officers who responded."
Romo ran to a nearby restaurant and told employees to call 911 because of a shooting.
Romo waited for the officers to arrive and told them, "I am one of you," and said there had been a fight and a shooting at Mustang Sally's. The city said "he should have identified himself as an SAPD officer and given a complete description of what occurred." Instead, he accepted a ride home from the officers and didn't give his account of the shooting to detectives until several hours later.
He was accused of violating six department rules, and Chief William McManus issued him an indefinite suspension. Romo appealed the punishment, and the case went before an arbitrator in December 2016.
In making its case to uphold the indefinite suspension, the city argued Romo "brought discredit and reproach to himself and the San Antonio Police Department when he drank intoxicants to the extent he felt he needed to give his car keys to a friend, and then became involved in a physical altercation which led to the shooting of his friend by witnesses to the fight."
While the city characterized the physical altercation as a fight, Romo's attorney argued it wasn't a fight at all, calling it a "strength contest."
According to the arbitration documents, Romo "and others testified he was not involved in a fight, but in a contest or show of strength between himself and another male."
When Romo and the other man finished their "contest," Romo's friend and another man began to fight and a gun was pulled — that's when the shots were fired and Romo fled. Romo's friend was shot in the elbow.
Romo's attorney argued he "had nothing to do with the incident" and was "100 percent truthful with the responding officers."
In fact, Romo's lawyer blamed the responding officers for not properly investigating Romo's role in the shooting at the bar. They said Romo "told the responding officers three times that he had been at Mustang Sally's."
While the attorney agreed that Romo "failed to report the incident to a supervisor," the evidence "demonstrates he did report it immediately to SAPD officers" and it was obvious he "was not trying to hide the incident or his involvement."
Romo also lost his gun during the shooting, which became another point of contention during the arbitration.
The city argued Romo gave his keys to his friend because he had too much to drink. That friend then used the keys to retrieve Romo's city-issued gun from his truck and took it into the bar.
The city said Romo "failed to use sound judgment when he allowed his friend to remove his city-issued handgun from Officer Romo's personal vehicle."
Romo's attorney argued Romo did not allow the friend to remove the gun from the truck at all. They said the friend took it without Romo's knowledge.
The attorney also argued that when Romo's friend took the gun from the truck, he left behind a baggie of cocaine that was later discovered by investigators on the floor of the truck. Romo denied the drugs were his and even took a drug test, which he passed within 12 hours of the incident.
In weighing the evidence, the arbitrator ruled the city failed to prove all the allegations against Romo, saying, "The credible evidence and the totality of the circumstances present in this case persuade the undersigned that an indefinite suspension is excessive and unreasonable in the light of the misconduct that was proven, and that a lesser discipline in the form of a thirty day suspension is appropriate and sufficient to serve a corrective purpose."
Officer Romo has been reinstated as an SAPD officer and has completed the process to return to duty, but he will not be returning to patrol. The department said he will now serve in an administrative capacity.
McManus issued this statement: "With respect to the arbitrator's award, I stand by my decision to indefinitely suspend Officer Romo. This incident along with his prior disciplinary case did not align with our guiding principles. I will continue to hold all SAPD officers to the highest standards."
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